Skip to content
Ash RoyJun 20, 2022 8:29:41 PM3 min read

Process vs Outcome

If you just focused on processes (systems) and completely ignored your outcomes (goals), would you still succeed? 

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear cites the words of three-times Super Bown winner Bill Walsh, "The score takes care of itself" 

In our goal-oriented society, we're taught to measure success by the goals we achieve. But in most cases, that's a misnomer.

Goals (outcomes) are important for 2 reasons:

1. They clarify the destination and therefore help direct our efforts.

2. They serve as a means of measuring the effectiveness of our efforts 

But obsessively focusing on goals can be counter-productive. Too much focus on goal achievement usually leads to feelings of frustration and lack of enjoyment on the journey to the goal. 

Assuming your definition of success includes experiencing joy and happiness, a myopic focus on goals (at the expense of enjoying the journey) is a sure-fire recipe for failure.  

In my conversation with James Clear, we spoke about process vs goal-driven approaches to work. Here's what James said: and losers, so to speak, have the same goals. And if the people at the top of the podium and the people who aren’t even on the podium have the same thing that they want, then the goal cannot be the thing that’s making the difference. And so the question is, well then what is it? And I think that it’s the habits and processes and systems that preceded the goal, the process before the outcome. And as you mentioned, there are a couple other issues with goals as well, which is that one of which is they rob you of your happiness in the moment because you’re always thinking about getting to the next milestone rather than enjoying the place that you’re at right now. And there’s no easy solution to that. The Best Metaphor I’ve found, the story that I’ve found that I like is imagine that you’re planting a seed and so you plant the seed and it grows and sprouts out, and then it becomes like a small sapling and then it grows into a young tree.

Here are 3 reasons why you'd be better off focusing on the process rather than goals/outcomes:

1. Goal achievement is fleeing (by definition)

This means tying your success to your goals robs you of joy and satisfaction during the journey to your goal. 

If you do achieve your goal and tie your success to the achievement of that goal, then your joy will be momentary.

And then you'll be back on the hamster wheel chasing your next goal. 

2. Winners and losers have the same goals

As James explains in his conversation with me, "winners" and "losers" have the same goals so the goal itself can't be what differentiates the winners from the losers. 

It's the process (and the focus on, and enjoyment of, the process) that is the determining factor. 

3. Being completely goal-focused turns life into an emotional roller-coaster

Tying your happiness and success to the achievement of a goal means you have a burst of joy when you've achieved your goal, and the remainder of your life is lived in a state of lack (of achievement). 

James explains in his book — Atomic Habits — that runners work hard for months, but as soon as they cross the finish line, they stop training because the race is no longer there to motivate them.

There's nothing to push them forward and they often revert to their old (unhealthy) habits. 

True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. 

The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems and processes is to continue playing the game and enjoy playing the game.



Ash Roy

Ash Roy has spent over 15 years working in the corporate world as a financial and strategic analyst and advisor to large multinational banks and telecommunications companies. He suffered through a CPA in 1997 and completed it despite not liking it at all because he believed it was a valuable skill to have. He sacrificed his personality in the process. In 2004 he finished his MBA (Masters In Business Administration) from the Australian Graduate School of Management and loved it! He scored a distinction (average) and got his personality back too!